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March is Trinity month!  So I thought for Thawed-out Thursday I’d link to some older Trinity posts…

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God is not revealed in His Twin

The Father is perfectly revealed, not by His Twin, not by a Clone, but by Someone who is His Complement.  The Father is revealed in His Son, the Firstborn, His Image, His right-hand Man-Priest.  Self-differentiation is at the heart of God’s revelation.  Jesus is not the same as His Father and yet fully reveals Him. More than this – this difference is of the essence of the divine self-disclosure.  Self-differentiation in communion is the being of God – all of this is perfectly revealed in, by and through Jesus of Nazareth….

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Nicene Trinitarianism

The Creed has no interest in defining an ousia (being) of God first and then assigning this essence to each of the Persons.  The Creed does not have a lengthy prologue before discussing the Father, Son and Spirit.  It simply unfolds the being of God as the interplay of these Persons in their roles and relations…

The vital phrase which calls Jesus “of one being with the Father” does not follow a prior discussion of “the being of God.”  Nicea does not first consider a general essence of deity and then apply it to Jesus.  No the very first mention of “being” is in the relationship of Father and Son.

As TF Torrance says in Trinitarian Faith, “The Father/Son relationship falls within the one being of God.”  This oneness upholds the distinction (as well as unity) of Father and Son…

There are genuine differences in Persons that in no way compromise their equality of divinity. There is never a time when the Son is not “one being” with the Father nor is there a time when the Son is not begotten of His Father. Therefore there is not a being of the Father that could ever be separately conceived and then assigned in equal measure to Father, Son and Spirit. Instead the being of God is a mutually constituting communion in which Father, Son and Spirit share.  The being of the Trinity consists in three Persons who are one with each other.  While Nicea does not say explicitly that the being is the communion of Persons, it points decidedly in this direction…

The divine nature is constituted by difference, distinction, mutuality, reciprocity – it is a divine life (a dance even!) not a divine stuff.

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Nicea Comes Before Chalcedon

…Starkly put, who cares if the eternal Son is God if we can’t say the same of Jesus of Nazareth!  It’s Jesus of Nazareth who says ‘If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.’ (John 14:9)  It’s Jesus of Nazareth who says ‘Son your sins are forgiven.’ (Mark 2:5)  It’s the Man Jesus who lives our life and dies our death.  If salvation is truly from the LORD then it has to be Jesus ‘born of the virgin Mary and suffered under Pontius Pilate’ who is declared fully God.  Nicea necessarily and clearly does this.

And what does this mean?  It means that before we’ve even gotten to Chalcedon we’ve affirmed that the Person of Jesus who is fully man and fully God exists entirely within the circle of divine fellowship which constitutes the being of God.  Jesus the Man is of one being with the Father.  If we could not affirm this then the revelation of Jesus would not be the revelation of God (contra John 14).  If we could not affirm this then the salvation of Jesus would not be the salvation of God (contra Mark 2).  But no, Jesus and the Father are one – not simply ‘the Son’ and the Father…

…Thus His full humanity in no way contradicts His full deity.  The Man Jesus exists fully and without remainder within the circle of divine life.  Chalcedon upholds the full integrity of Christ’s humanity, the complete perfection of His divinity, the absolute unity of His Person.  What Chalcedon does not say, and what it must never be made to say, is that there is a humanity to Jesus that is beyond or outside the divine homoousios.  Nicea has for all time assured us that the Man Jesus fully participates in the circle of triune fellowship which is the divine nature.

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Arianism and Modalism: Falling Off Either Side of the Wrong Horse

…With Arianism and Modalism, Jesus gets either squashed down or squished in.  When the “One God” is defined without Jesus, He will always lose out.  Arius will allow Him to be Jesus and not God, Sabellius will allow Him to be God and not Jesus.  But fundamentally these errors are not so different because they both assume a pre-conceived ‘One God’ before they think of Christ.

This leaves us no option but to begin with a doctrine of God that expressly includes the mutual relations of Father and Son.  The “One God” must accommodate relationship from the outset.  Nothing else will allow Jesus to be Jesus and God.

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Trinity is not a nuance.

When we unfold the trinitarian life of God in His gospel work, we’re not simply adding a level of detail to functionally unitarian ‘God’-speak.  Trinity is not just a nuancing of more basic truths.  To speak of trinity is to uncover a logic which alters the way we conceive of everything, from the ground up.

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Trinity and unity?

Have you ever heard someone say:

“Ah yes you’re emphasising the trinity.  That’s well and good.  But let’s not forget the unity of God.”

And I say…. huh!?

The trinity is the unity of God!!  Trinity means tri-unity.  In that one word (that one doctrine) we have both the oneness and the threeness of God.  God is three Persons united.  That’s what trinity means.  Trinity gives us everything we need to articulate the One and the Three…

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The Trinitarian Old Testament

Here are 24 OT Scriptures that must be understood multi-Personally or they are misunderstood…

My point is not that the OT betrays hints, shapes and shadows of triune structure,

My point is not that NT eyes can see trinitarian themes in the OT,

My point is not that we go back as Christians and now retrospectively read the trinity into the OT,

My point is not that the OT gives us partial suggestions of trinitarian life that are then developed by NT fulfillment,

My point is that these texts read on their own terms and in their own context (as the Jewish, Hebrew Scriptures that they are) demand to be understood as the revelation of a multi-Personal God.  The only proper way to understand these texts is as trinitarian revelation.  These texts are either to be understood triunely or they are mis-understood – on their own terms or any others…

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Click the Trinity tag for over a hundred other posts.

And keep reading Dan’s survey of Trinitarian theology in the 20th century.

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A Repost

6 Christ Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.  (Phil 2:6-11)

Divine humility.  Sounds contradictory?  You don’t understand Christmas.

Jesus Christ, existing in the form of God, made a judgement.  That’s right.  Before Christmas morning, Jesus took a decision.  (btw, v6 is proof that it’s ok to call the pre-incarnate Son ‘Jesus’ – but that’s for another time…)

Now you didn’t decide to get born.  I’m guessing if you had been offered the chance to get born, you’d have taken it.  But Jesus had to choose to get born.  And I promise you, if you were in His shoes, you’d never have chosen what He chose.  If you were in very nature God, surrounded by the worship of heaven, able to do whatever you pleased, you would not have chosen what Jesus chose.  Because this is how Jesus considered things:  Being in very nature God, He chose not to grasp at His power or to exploit it.  Instead He chose total self-emptying.  He chose servanthood.  He chose to humble Himself.  He chose obedience.  He chose death.  He even chose the death of the cross – lifted up as an accursed thing.  That was Jesus’ consideration – being the God that He was.

Question:  Would you have chosen that?

Answer:  No.  Every day I fail to give up even the smallest of comforts.  Let alone to give up my very life!  Let alone to suffer godforsaken hell – and that for enemies!  Would I have chosen this path?  No!

Question:  Well if Jesus did make this choice, did that stop Him from being in very nature God?

Answer:  By no means!  He is ongoingly, continually ‘in very nature God’.

Question:  Well then, is Jesus’ self-emptying a major detour from His glory in the form of God?

Answer:  No this is what equality with God actually looks like!  This is the very expression of the Father’s glory – not exploiting but emptying.

Since He is in the form of God so He took to Himself the form of a slave!  And in this self-emptying He shows what true equality with God looks like.  It looks like the crib and the cross!

Christmas morning and Good Friday are not detours from the glory of God.  They show us that divine glory at full strength.  In eternity Jesus made this consideration.  He chose His history as the incarnate Servant to be that which truly expresses His equality with God.  And the Father affirms this choice – hyper-exalting He who hyper-humbled Himself.  And into all eternity we will gladly serve the Servant.  (And don’t forget, He will serve us! Luke 12:37!)

Implication:  The baby in the manger, the victim on the cross – this is what it means to be in very nature God.

What is God’s nature?  Don’t simply look to the crown.  Look to the crib and to the cross.  God’s nature is disclosed as one of utter self-giving.  Divine humility.

Glorious!

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A sermon by Darrell Johnson on this passage (one of my favourite sermons ever!)

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See other Christmas posts here.

And of course the ultimate Christmas sermon:

 

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Unlike the scuttling basements of many a blog page, the comments section of Christ the Truth is its most redeeming feature.  For those who only get the RSS feed you are missing out.

I thought I’d give you excerpts from some of Paul Blackham’s comments which would otherwise languish in the blog’s underbelly.

Jesus – centre of all reality
…what if Jesus actually IS God? What if the prayer/holiness/sovereignty stuff is actually all about our relationship with LORD Jesus? What if Jesus is not the agent but the content, the substance and all these other things are ‘agents’ for Him? What if Jesus is the centre and substance of every creature’s relation to the Living God? What if the LORD God of the Scriptures is Jesus?…

Jesus – centre of our Doctrine of God
…what would happen if all the attribute/substance stuff was only described in a Trinitarian context? What if Jesus was allowed to be the centre and soul of the doctrine of God? Ok, I know that is just fantasy and it will never happen…. but wouldn’t it be amazing if Jesus was really taken that seriously!!!…

Jesus – centre of the Scriptures
…If the Bible reveals the Living God then it just has to be deeply connected to Jesus. The more I go on and realise just how completely Jesus surrounds us in creation then it makes more and more sense that He is present in the Scripture in a much deeper way than is often described. Too often the doctrines of Scripture spend all the time working at issues of inerrancy, when that might come a lot easier if the Bible is seen as the ever-living presence/clothing of Jesus…

Changing the world through love
…the ancient Christians changed the world when their gospel living, their sheer ‘unreasonable’ love for Jesus was so intense and so ‘impractical’ that it could not be ignored. By trusting the Spirit and obeying Jesus even when it seems impossible or foolish… By trusting the Spirit to really change the world to the pattern of Jesus… we aim for something much more than a re-adjustment of the furniture on the sinking ship… we join Jesus in aiming for a really new world where sorrow, injustice and death are illegal and impossible…

On Apologetics
…if we are trying to render the ‘concept of god’ as reasonable or if we are trying to ‘demonstrate’ that the Bible is the Word of God or if we are deploying philosophical arguments that never end up with ‘ergo, Jesus is the glory of God, the eternal Son of the Father’… then we are obviously trusting in the flesh. Of course we want to believe that if only we work hard enough or organise well enough or develop the best campaign or get the new ‘technique’ then we don’t really need to fast and pray, we don’t need to follow Jesus in sheer dependence on the Spirit on the way to crucifixion. Yet, the truth is that when the apostle Peter spoke of giving an apologia, he did so in a letter that consistently argues that the glory comes after suffering, that we will be thought strange for the way we live, that we should be living such good lives that people ask us about Jesus…

On engaging atheists
…The great temptation is to want to be ‘reasonable’ – i.e. to find a non-’religious’ foundation that will show us to be wise and the atheist to be foolish. The only foundation is Jesus. He is why we believe in God…

God’s glory – not the glory of Allah
…It is not arbitrary to say that God’s glory is His grace – because the apostle John makes it so very clear that God’s eternal glory is manifested at the Cross. The specific words of Jesus concerning His own glory have to be our starting point here. My most common conversation partners in theology these days are various Islamic theologians [especially those amazing guys from the 8th/9th centuries] – and their understanding of the transcendant glory of Allah is really serious. If you really want an exaltation of divine glory that is utterly, utterly opposed to human autonomy/glory then those are the guys you really want to be reading. However, is that what the Living God Himself said about glory when He walked among us? Where did He say that His glory was to be seen? Is the glory of Allah substantially different than the glory of the Trinity?…

On Christ Alone
Matthew 11:25-3o – Everything is in the hands of Jesus – whether revelation or redemption. We can know nothing of any god other than what Jesus chooses to tell us. How do we know that there is a Father other than what Jesus tells us? How can we prove the deity of the Father other than through Jesus? How can we find rest for our souls other than through Jesus?

Recently we were challenged to ‘get serious with god’ over the summer… but Jesus wasn’t mentioned. I imagined a follower of Odin heading home to get on his viking helmet and wielding his battle-axe with more passion and commitment or a follower of Baal putting aside his tiredness and heading out for some serious immorality after work.

If we are not dealing with Jesus then does it matter whether we get serious with Odin or Ra or Vishnu or Artemis or Allah or the Prime Mover.

Christ alone… in all the Scriptures… or else why bother at all?

On the Enlightenment
I think the Enlightenment brought a re-structuring of European thought generally – from specifics to universals. Think of the contrast between John Owen and John Wesley. Both are such amazing Christians, but they live on different sides of the Enlightenment fence. Wesley is a ‘global’ or universal man, thinking of a truth for all humanity. Think of the way that Wesley relates to the empiricist philosophers of his day, whereas Owen is related to a much older philosophical world. Wesley is ‘modern’ in a way that could never be said of Owen. Owen was still thinking in that more ancient mode where the universal vision was very much at the edge of his thinking… or perhaps it is more to do with the ‘universal’ being at the edge of ‘feeling’ rather than ‘thinking’. Wesley traveled around the world, around his global parish – but the Puritans didn’t really feel that need.

Is it possible for us to have the global heart of Wesley while rejecting the Enlightenment ‘objectivity’ that feels so shocked that we are condemned sinners? Of course, the very last thing we want is to dig up a scholastic zombie as if the missing ingredient is more Aristotle!

Jesus Himself, of course, is the glorious solution – a great love for everybody He meets but without that ‘objectifying’ train of Enlightenment thinking. He faces the chaos and suffering without any of the self-pity or bitterness… yet joy and hope pour out of Him. Glory! What a mess we make of our thinking and feeling… and we only realise what a mess we make as we look at His glory and maturity!

Sex
This is important. I’ve been reading some of the books and sermons on sex/virginity from the early centuries after the apostles. The contrast with especially modern evangelical thought is shocking. Today, in the church community almost as much as outside, sex is something to be simply ‘celebrated’ and enjoyed – and there are plenty of Christian sex manuals etc etc. Sex problems are seen as resolved through better techniques or losing repression or ‘communication’. The idea that a closer relationship with Jesus might be helpful is not a common solution. Of course, when the most intense experience of intimacy in the culture is ‘mind-blowing sex’… then of course sex is seen as an end in itself. To celebrate sex is seen as a big enough goal in itself and why shouldn’t the Bible be forced to have such a limited horizon? The deep damage that this kind of attitude has for single and LGBT Christians is frightening. How can we really hold sexual practice up as the most intense relationship/intimacy, constantly trying to pair everybody up, and also pretend to be so shocked when single and LGBT Christians believe the hype?

…The best sex help we can offer is to remind us/seduce us back to the Divine Romance. That is the full and complete and ultimate human experience of intimacy… and from that ecstasy we do begin to see both the joys and sorrows of our fallen human sexuality… not in hopeless frustration or obsession, but as a grace given to some of us in order to lead us to our true Spouse.

On Song of Songs as a love triangle
I think that there are two men after the bride – the wealthy and powerful king with his many lovers and the humble, rural Shepherd who has eyes only for His love. The bride is caught up into the king’s seduction/power… but her heart is always really for her true Love. Will she be one of many in the glittering palace… or will she be the ‘one, true love’ out on the mountains, in the shepherd’s home?…

On biblical masculinity
…think of the different kinds of men within the Bible. Would artistic, multi-media Ezekiel spend his free-time with Jehu?

Who is the proper man – Esau or Jacob, Cain or Abel, Joseph with his fancy clothes and fear of ‘sex’ or Judah with fairly ‘relaxed’ view of what’s on offer sexually speaking? Would bi-polar, zealous Elijah fit well with the very reliable/stable Daniel?

David himself is such a complex character. On the one hand he is a sorry figure, hunched over his roof-top porn… setting a destructive example to his sons… yet on the other hand he is capable of such profound and deeply masculine expression in the psalms; tremendous integrity and courage before Saul and Goliath.. but cowardice and stupidity before the Philistine king; passion for the LORD Jesus when enacting the ascension in transporting the ark, but the seedy and humiliating “hot-water bottle” of the latter years.

On Calvin and Barth
…Calvin begins with the utterly transcendent God before the world began… whereas Barth wants to always begin with the actual point of contact, the one mediator, Jesus Christ. I find that both theologians lead me to worship.. reading them both is like walking into a grand cathedral. Calvin carries me away to eternity, to divine counsels and the being of god in a more classical sense. Barth confronts me with the Word of God, Jesus Christ, here and now.

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On Sunday I began our Gospel Alone series with this sermon on Christ Alone.

Audio here.  Excerpt beneath.  Full sermon at the end.

We do not know God except in Christ alone.  We are not saved by God except in Christ alone.

Does that sound narrow?

It’s only as narrow as Christ is.  So how narrow is Christ?

He is the Eternal Image of the otherwise Invisible God, the Creator and Redeemer of the Cosmos in Whom the fullness of deity dwells.  How narrow is He?  He is vast, He is beyond imagining.  He fills the universe and the fullness of God fills Him.

We don’t say “Christ alone” to be narrow.  We say ‘Christ alone’ because there’s no room for anyone else!  He is the eternal Son of the Father, our Maker and our Saviour, Who reconciles the cosmos back to His Father – there’s just no room for anyone or anything else.  That’s why we say ‘Christ alone’.

It’s not about being narrow.  It’s just about naming the true Lord of this world.  The true Lord of this world is not Buddha or Allah or Krishna, He’s Jesus.  The true Lord of this world is not money, sex or power, He’s Jesus.  The true Lord of this world is not a big bang or a tiny particle or a long equation, He’s Jesus.

This is not narrow, this is simply naming the vast majesty of His Person and work.  It’s Christ alone, because when you understand who He is, there’s no room for anyone else.

And when you grasp the all-sufficiency of His Person and work – it transforms your view of Christ, of His Father, of the world, of salvation, of yourself.  To know Christ for Who He is means being drawn into His very life and work – to be caught up into the heart of all things.  Grasping ‘Christ alone’ changes everything…

Full sermon text below…

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It’s common to see a link between christology and our approach to the bible.  There are limits to this but also benefits.  Our approach to both Christ and the bible requires us to encounter something fully human which nonetheless is the Word of God.  Christology can therefore teach us a great deal about how the bible as fully human can, nonetheless, be a fully divine revelation.

In this post I discussed an important point in christology.  Namely, the chronological and methodological priority of Nicea over Chalcedon.  What this means is that we must linger long over Nicea’s declaration that Jesus (born of a virgin, crucified under Pontius Pilate) is of one being with the Father (homoousios). The Man Jesus exists wholly within the triune relations which constitute God’s being.  Whatever else Chalcedon protects – it does not protect Christ’s humanity from that Nicene homoousios!  The fully human Jesus is a full participant in this divine nature.  In this way we protect against a Nestorianism which always threatens to divorce the humanity from the divinity.

What we can then say is this:

  1. Nestorianism is rejected: In Jesus’ humanity (and not apart from it) God is revealed.  To put it another way: As the Man Jesus (and not in some other realm of locked-off deity) He brings divine revelation and salvation.
  2. Adoptionism is rejected: It is not the case that the humanity comes first and is then taken up into deity.  The Word became flesh, not the other way around!
  3. Docetism is rejected: It is not the case that the humanity is an unreal facade which we must push beyond to get to the real (divine) Jesus.

What would this mean when applied to biblical interpretation (i.e. hermeneutics)?  Given our OT focus here – what would it mean in particular for OT interpretation?

I suggest it means this:

  1. Nestorianism is rejected: In the humanity of the OT (it’s immediate context, complete Jewish-ness, thorough Hebrew-ness) its divine Object (Christ) is revealed.  As the prophetic Israelite Scripture that it is (and not in some other locked-off realm of meaning) it is Christian, i.e. a proclamation of Christ.
  2. Adoptionism is rejected: It is not the case that a lower-level of Jewish meaning comes first and is then added to as it’s adopted as Christian Scripture (by the NT).  From the beginning, at the very roots of its being, the OT is Christian/Messianic.  It is not first Hebrew Scripture and then Christian revelation rather it is Christian revelation that presupposes and brings about the Hebrew Scriptures.
  3. Docetism is rejected:  Having said all this I’m in no way denying the distinctly Israelite/Hebrew/pre-Gentile-inclusion/Mosaic-administration ways in which the Christ is proclaimed.  In its own context and on its own terms the OT will proclaim Christ to us.  We do not ignore contemporary details – rather we take them very seriously as the concrete context in which Christ is made known.

If the christological analogy holds and if this christology is right then I think we need to rule out certain brands of hermeneutics.  In particular we should be wary of any theory of interpretation that separates out Jewish-ness and Christian-ness in the OT.

On a similar note, here’s a great short article on this hermeneutical issue by Nathan Pitchford.  His argument is that the reformers’ notion of the literal meaning of the text was not something different to its christological meaning. It was the christological meaning.  You can also check out his excellent OT series here.

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I just heard again that song: ‘Shout to the North’ (lyrics here).  Great tune huh?  What do we think about the lyrics?

Years ago I led the music in a church (a very small church you understand, but my knowledge of four guitar chords made me a relative virtuoso).

Well happily enough, Shout to the North has only four chords.  So it went straight onto the ‘playlist’.  The only issue was my troubled conscience.  You see, while I only knew four chords of guitar, I knew a whole six doctrines of theology (neat diagrams to boot).  And something grated.  The lyrics say “Jesus is Saviour to all.”  Now we can’t be singing that can we?

I can’t remember, but I think I used to hurry on through that line – Jesus is Saviour to those who call… or something.

Because here’s my unexamined, gut-level assumption – Jesus is Lord of all and Saviour of some.  Isn’t that what all right-thinking evangelicals believe?  Lord of all, Saviour of some.  Which is basically to say that Jesus is fundamentally Lord but secondarily and more narrowly Saviour.  He’s Lord through and through, He’s partially Saviour.

And this gut-level assumption is strengthened by the fear of universalism.  (Fear is a wonderful tool to prevent us examining our beliefs).  Surely if we sing “Jesus is Saviour to all” we’re demolishing any distinction between saved and unsaved, aren’t we?

Well no, that’s not how the bible argues.  Jesus is constantly called Saviour of the world (e.g. John 3:17f; 4:42) and Paul says:

We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.  (1 Tim 4:10)

So actually Jesus is Lord of all (but especially those who believe) and Saviour of all (but especially those who believe).

There is a distinction.  It’s there in the word ‘especially.’  But it’s not in the scope of Christ’s Lordship versus His Saviour-ship.  He is equally both.

This has implications for many areas, but let’s just think about evangelism.  If I go with my gut-level assumption, how do I offer Christ to the unbeliever?  Well I can’t presume to offer Christ as Saviour can I?  After all Jesus might turn out not be Saviour to this individual.  So perhaps I conclude: it’s safer to confront the unbeliever with His Lordship.  And, on this understanding, this is a ‘Lordship’ that’s considered somewhat apart from His Saviour-ship.

So I speak more of His hands raised up against us than His hands stretched out towards us.  I define sin far more as rebellion against His rule than resistance against His grace.  I offer salvation as submission to His sovereignty much more than resting in His rescue.

Now I will certainly mention those latter aspects.  But they are deviations from the norm.  They are potential fringe-benefits – not the main story.

In all this, I understand that there’s massive overlap between Lordship and Saviourship.  In fact that’s really my point.  When you say ‘Jesus is Lord’ you are saying ‘The Saviour is Lord’ (for ‘Jesus’ means Saviour!)  His Lordship is expressed and established precisely in His cosmic salvation.  Therefore we must not divide these aspects up and we certainly should not favour one over the other.

But if this is so then it can’t be true that a preacher is good on ‘Jesus is Lord’, but not as strong on ‘Jesus is Saviour’.  If we’re not holding out the Saviour-ship of Christ then we’re not properly holding out the Lordship of Christ either.

So what if we took the song seriously?  What if we really believed that Jesus is the Saviour of the world?  Imagine that loved one who you pray for – you desperately want them to turn to Christ for you know that Jesus is their Lord.  Do you know equally powerfully that He is their Saviour too?

In my conservative evangelical constituency we bang the Jesus is Lord drum very loudly.  I’m just not sure we hold Him out as Saviour with equal passion.  And it flavours our evangelism in some unhelpful ways.

Thoughts?

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I’m always banging on about the trinity here.

One thing I particularly emphasize is the fact that the distinct Persons maintain their distinct-ness in the unity of the Godhead because this unity is the perichoresis (mutual indwelling) of the Persons.  In fact the distinct-ness is upheld in these relations.  The Father is truly Father because of His paternal relation to the Son in the Spirit etc, etc. God’s One-ness does not steamroller the distinctions, it’s a One-ness that includes (and is even constituted by) this mutual, interlocking one-ness.  (Just click the Trinity tag on my sidebar and you’ll soon come across many such posts).

One implication is this: We can all just breathe a sigh of relief and let Jesus be Jesus.

What do I mean by that?  Well let me ask a few questions.  When you read the Gospels, do you ever wonder:

  • Why doesn’t Jesus just say ‘I am God’?  Why all this ‘I am sent…’ stuff?
  • Why does Jesus keep saying things like: ‘I can do nothing by myself’? (e.g John 5:19,30)
  • How come Jesus sleeps?
  • How come Jesus doesn’t know when He’s returning?

He seems to walk around doing divine things (like forgiving sins), but at the same time He seems to go out of His way to show how dependent He is.  Think about the paralytic in Matthew 9. He forgives his sins – which only God can do (v3) – but He does so as the Son of Man (v6) and the overwhelming reaction of the people is to glorify God for giving such authority to men. (v8)  Even the most blatantly divine action is done in a distinctly human and dependent way.

Do we get worried about Jesus’ weakness which comes out of every page of the Gospels?  Are we concerned that Jesus doesn’t say “I am God”?  Instead He seems most often to claim a dependence on God and He walks around unashamedly humanly, showing Himself to be a complement (not a clone) of the One He calls Father.

Does this infuritate us as we seek to prove from the Scriptures the divinity of Jesus??  It shouldn’t do.

It is a revelation of His divine nature (and not a concealment) that we see in Jesus such dependence on the Father.  When He says ‘I am sent’ it reveals His divine nature as the eternal Son of the Father.  When He says ‘I can do nothing’ it reveals His divine nature as the eternal Servant of the LORD.  When He sleeps it reveals His divine nature as One dependent upon the ever-wakeful Father.  When He says He doesn’t know when He’s returning He reveals His divine nature as One sent from God.  He waits on the Father’s command and does not initiate His first or second coming.

He really can’t do anything by Himself.  He really does sleep.  He really doesn’t know when He’s returning.  But for all that He is no less divine.   For He belongs to the other Members and as the dependant Son, filled without measure with the omnipotent Spirit, He is a full participant in the communion that is God.

We don’t need to assign these differences in Jesus to some ‘human nature’ locked off from a special sphere of uncorrupted, independent deity.  Jesus’ deity is not insulated from these differences, it includes them.  It is the human Jesus who says ‘If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.’  It is the human Jesus who says ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’  In His differences, even in His complete humanity, He is the living God.

His divinity is on show on every page of the Scriptures because His divinity is His anointing with the Spirit and consecration to the Father.  That’s why the key title for Jesus is not “God” but “the Christ, the Son of God.”  This title is the most clear expression of His divinity.

So let’s let Him be who He is in the Gospels.  Let’s not fit Him into some pre-conceived notions of divinity.  Let’s let Jesus be Jesus.

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From this sermon on Matthew 1:1-17 preached yesterday.

Jesus was the One Person who could choose both His friends and His family.

And He chose a family full of liars, prostitutes, murderers, adulterers and idolaters.   All of us would want to cover up the skeleton’s in this genealogical closet.  But on the contrary the bible goes out of its way to emphasize the scandalous origins of Jesus of Nazareth.

He is not ashamed to call them brothers (Heb 2:11).

Not only is Jesus the ‘friend of sinners’ (Matthew 11:19).  That would be wonderful enough.  But He goes further.  He’s not simply our friend.  He chooses to be family.  He is not just a divine visitor condescending to sit at table with us.  Not just the Angel of the LORD granting us favours.  No, God the Son becomes God our Brother.  Born into our race, grafted into our family tree, forever sharing in our humanity.  He draws very near.  Bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh – now and forever more.  Truly He is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23).

And He does all this to end our exile.  Matthew 1:17 is clear that Jesus ends the exile.  Not Zerubabbel or Nehemiah or Ezra – Jesus.  Estrangement from God is over in the presence of Jesus.  He says plainly “The time has come, the kingdom of God has drawn near.  Repent and believe the gospel.”  (Mark 1:15)  Fellowship with the Most High is simply given to us in Jesus.

And this is why the 3 fourteens are stressed by Matthew (1:17).  42 generations from the foundation of Israel until her Messiah comes.  In months, the number 42 represents a time of suffering.  It is three and a half years – perfection (7) split in two.  (Rev 11:2ff; 13:5).  But considered as multiples of 7, we have six sevens.  And any time you have a six in the bible – you’re just waiting for the seventh.  Jesus is the seventh seven.  The Sabbath of sabbaths.  The complete rest.  And His reign will usher in the true Jubilee.  (Deut 25:8ff)  At the end of His seven, the trumpet will sound and Jubilee begins.  (Jubilee means ram’s horn!)  And it’s Jesus who ends the exile.

The Son has become our Brother to bring us to the Father. And in this reconciliation the whole creation is freed.

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Preached on John 1:1-2 this morning (audio here).

My last two points were this:

Jesus is God-sized

and

God is Jesus-shaped

 

I wonder whether much of our evangelism is aimed at persuading people of point number one.  And I wonder whether that emphasis, if divorced from the second point, is quite dangerous.

Here’s what I mean – when we tell an unbeliever that Jesus is God, this is what they hear:  “You know the god of the pub discussion – the distant, arm-chair deity, uninvolved and uncaring?  That god is who Jesus is!”

“Oh” says the unbeliever.  “Because Jesus looks quite different to that.”

“Yeah, I know” we say.  “But you need to look past all that stuff.  Whatever you see in Jesus that doesn’t look like ‘the god you’ve always believed in’ – that’s just Jesus’ human nature.  No, that’s dispensible.  What you really need to know is that Jesus is God.”

And what’s the result?  Well how many Christian testimonies run something like this…

“I have always believed in some kind of god.  And then I met Jesus.  And the preacher told me that Jesus is the god-I-always-believed-in.”

Do you see what’s happened here?  Some supposed natural knowledge of God is determining a person’s view of Christ and determining it from the outset.

It should be the other way around.  Knowledge of Jesus should revolutionize our view of God. We should tell people not only that Jesus is God-sized, we should tell them that God is entirely Jesus-shaped.

As Archbishop Michael Ramsey once said (riffing on 1 John 1:5): “God is Christlike, and in Him there is no unchristlikeness at all.”

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“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4:12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of him (1 Corinthians 1:30). If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects (Hebrews 2:17) that he might learn to feel our pain (Hebrews 5:2). If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross (Galatians 3:13); if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other”.

Calvin’s Institutes, II.xvi.19

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From Peter Leithart

The Word became flesh.  He assumed everything that flesh is heir to – all our weakness, all our sorrow, all our sickness and shatteredness, all our godforsakenness, He took to Himself.

But not merely to identify or sympathize.  He took it to Himself to overcome it.  He goes to the cross as flesh, and rises Spirit. He assumed flesh in order to fill it with the power of the Spirit.

But – what is absolutely crucial – we still live life in flesh – still broken, sorrowful, weak, shattered.  Jesus died and rose not so we can instantly slough off fleshliness, but so that our fleshliness can be transformed from within by the Spirit.  So that weakness can be the form of power, brokenness the form of wholiness, forsakenness the form of intimacy.

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From Stand Firm in Faith

Any number of things madden me about this:

1. If Jesus is a ‘mechanism’ for Schori – she ain’t a sister.  She’s just not.  If Jesus is incidental to the identity of ‘God’ she’s got the wrong god.

2. Apparently Schori looks to fruits of the Spirit in religious teachers to demonstrate their closeness to God.  But then for ‘conservatives’ to insist on the confession of Christ as Lord amounts to works.

3. Her arguments are about the Abrahamic faiths – but just how does the Dali Lama fit into this?  Is he an anonymous Abrahamite?  Just who is the ‘God’ who’s in charge of this ‘salvation’?  Apparently he’s not even as specific as the God of Abraham.  Apparently His identity just isn’t important.

But one other thought:

4.  I believe we Evangelicals are a bit hamstrung when it comes to answering Schori whileever we remain unclear that Jesus just is the God of Abraham.  When our own reasoning also runs along the lines of “Jesus is essential for us, but not for them” our opposition to this teaching will not be as strong as it should be.

Just a thought.

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macho-jesus

I think this is the most blasphemous image of Christ I’ve seen.

Brings to mind that pithy saying often heard on the lips of an influential pastor: ‘I refuse to worship a Jesus I could beat up.’ 

If that logic were followed – would this be the Jesus who is worthy of worship?  Perish the thought.

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The dumb thing about blogging is that you’re always burying your old stuff with whatever nonsense occured to you in the shower that morning.  Almost 500 posts on it occurs to me that newer is not necessarily better and, apart from Bobby, I’m not sure how many of you were following the blog from the beginning.  So because of that (and because I’m lazy!), I’ll repost some older stuff.  Probably not every Thursday, but getting old stuff out of the freezer on Thawsdays appeals to me.  Anyway, here’s my third ever post.  It’s called:

God is not revealed in His Twin

This should be very obvious, but we easily forget it.  Even in the verses that most directly uphold the full and complete revelation of the Father in the Son, the differentiation of Father and Son are also prominently in view:

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3)

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Col 1:15)

“…see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God… For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:4-6)

The Father is perfectly revealed, not by His Twin, not by a Clone, but by Someone who is His Complement.  The Father is revealed in His Son, the Firstborn, His Image, His right-hand Man-Priest.  Self-differentiation is at the heart of God’s revelation.  Jesus is not the same as His Father and yet fully reveals Him. More than this – this difference is of the essence of the divine self-disclosure.  Self-differentiation in communion is the being of God – all of this is perfectly revealed in, by and through Jesus of Nazareth.

Now to say that Jesus is other to His Father is not an Arian position.  On the contrary this is a determination to see Jesus’ revelation as a full disclosure of the life of God.  It was Arius who would leave us short of full revelation in Jesus.  Here we are embracing the otherness of Father and Son as the very deepest revelation of the divine nature. It is because of His equality with the Father that Christ’s otherness must be taken as part and parcel of the divine revelation. Because Jesus fully reveals the divine life by speaking of Another, thus He is not obstructing our view of this Other.   Rather the interplay of He and the Other are constitutive of the divine life which He reveals.  Arius is refuted at the deepest level, and all by heeding this simple truth: God is not revealed in His Twin but in His Son.

This should be so obvious and plain and yet so many take their opposition of Arius in precisely the opposite direction.  Their first and fatal move is to maintain that homo-ousios commits us to three-fold repetition.  They assume Father and Son are identical from the outset – all in the name of Nicene orthodoxy (of course ignoring ‘God from God…’).  Now when they approach the eating, sleeping, dying, rising Jesus they must account for these differences while upholding that the Father and Son possess identical CVs.  What to do with the discrepancies?  Simple.  Ignore the fact that Nicea pronounced the homo-ousios on Jesus of Nazareth and instead attribute all discrepancies to a human nature that is distanced from His divine nature. 

The cost of such a move?  Immediately, the otherness of Jesus is not revelatory of the divine nature, in fact it impedes our view of God. Now to see Jesus is not to see divine life, but merely human.  We have in fact lost the one Image, Word, Representative and Mediator of God.  Jesus of Nazareth has become, to all intents and purposes, homoi-ousios with the Father.  Question marks hover over everything we see in Jesus as to whether or not this reveals the divine life.  We have returned to Arius’s problem via another route – we are left short of full revelation in Jesus.

Now if we took seriously the fact that God is not revealed in His Twin but in His Son we would be saved from all of this.  Christ’s humanity neither commits us to an eating, sleeping, dying, rising Father, but nor does it distance us from a true revelation of God.  Instead Christ’s eating reveals a Father who provides in our frailties, His sleeping reveals a Father who protects in our weakness, His death reveals a living, judging Father, His resurrection reveals a justifying, reconciling Father.  We see into the very heart-beat of the eternal trinity when we see Jesus of Nazareth in all His glorious humanity. 

And all because we have remembered the simple adage: God is not revealed in His Twin, but in His Son!

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John Owen’s masterpiece On Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost was written at a time when Socinianism (a form of Unitarianism) was infiltrating England.   Their belief (as expressed in the Racovian Catechism) was that Jesus was essential for salvation.  He was manifestly predicted and prophesied in the OT.  The Hebrew Scriptures were indeed a word about Christ.  But, for the Socinians, Christ existed before his birth only inasmuch as God always had a plan (or ‘word’) which Christ fulfilled in the NT (‘was made flesh’).  Christ’s pre-existence then was not as a distinct, concrete Person in the Godhead, but as a saving/revealing disposition belonging to the one God of Israel.  Thus Jesus was not the eternal word/wisdom/revelation of God but only the ultimate word/wisdom/revelation of God.

John Owen considered this to be a foul assault on the divine Person of Christ.   This was a re-incarnation of Arianism – the great heresy of heresies.  Perhaps his major response was Christologia in which one of his key arguments is that the OT also reveals Christ as a ‘distinct Person within the deity.’ (a repeated phrase).   Perhaps we’ll look at that book another time.  But for now let’s look at Communion with God penned 20 years earlier.

His main premise is that there is a distinct and distinguishable communication of grace coming from each Person of the Trinity.  The saints should therefore have distinct communion with each Person of the Trinity individually.  The rest of the book unfolds the ways in which we hold communion with the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

What’s interesting for our current purposes is that Owen argues for this distinct experience of each Person from both testaments.  According to Owen the OT also reveals the distinct Persons in their distinct roles.

I will list his OT Scriptures regarding the distinct Person of the Son.  I am not including his verses on the Song of Songs or verses teaching more general truths about God’s character.  But these, according to Owen, are specific verses about the Son :

Gen 3:15

Gen 49:8-12

Psalm 2

Psalm 21:5,6

Psalm 22:1

Psalm 25:14

Psalm 40:7,8

Psalm 45

Psalm 110

Prov 1:22

Prov 3:13-15

Prov 8:22-31

Prov 9:1-5

Isaiah 4:2

Isaiah 6:2

Isaiah 11

Isaiah 28:5

Isaiah 35:8

Isaiah 40:11

Isaiah 42:16

Isaiah 45:22

Isaiah 49:15-16

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 54:5

Isaiah 61:1,2,10

Isaiah 62:3,5

Isaiah 63:3,4,9

Jeremiah 23:6

Ezekiel 16

Daniel 2:44

Daniel 7:9,27

Daniel 9:24

Hosea 2:19-20

Zephaniah 3:17

Micah 5:4,7,8

Zechariah 3:9

Zechariah 6:13

 Zechariah 13:7

Malachi 3:1

Malachi 4:2

I hope you see the importance of these verses.  Owen uses these as proof texts that the Son is distinct and known as distinct from the Father and Spirit.  Owen’s argument doesn’t work if they’re just verses about ‘God’ in general and ‘hey, Jesus happens to be God too!’  It’s about proving from all of Scripture that the Son is revealed in His deity and distinction.

I maintain that it’s this kind of biblical theology that will protect us from unitarian pressures in our own day.

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I recently re-read Nathan Pitchford’s excellent short article on the reformers’ hermeneutic.

His basic point is that Sola Scriptura always leads to Solus Christus.  The literal reading simply is the christocentric reading.

For Luther, the grammatical-historical hermeneutic was simply the interpretation of scripture that “drives home Christ.” As he once expressed it, “He who would read the Bible must simply take heed that he does not err, for the Scripture may permit itself to be stretched and led, but let no one lead it according to his own inclinations but let him lead it to its source, that is, the cross of Christ. Then he will surely strike the center.” To read the scriptures with a grammatical-historical sense is nothing other than to read them with Christ at the center.

And yet, claims Pitchford, many evangelicals today have a basically un-Christian reading of the OT.

[What I mean is]…  they employ a hermeneutic that does not have as its goal to trace every verse to its ultimate reference point: the cross of Christ. All of creation, history, and reality was designed for the purpose of the unveiling and glorification of the triune God, by means of the work of redemption accomplished by the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The bible is simply the book that tells us how to see Christ and his cross at the center of everything. It tells us who God is by showing us the person and work of Christ, who alone reveals the invisible God. If we do not intentionally ask ourselves, “How may I see Christ more clearly by this passage,” in our reading of every verse of scripture, then we are not operating under the guidance of Luther’s grammatical-historical hermeneutic. If we would follow in the steps of the reformers, we must realize that a literal reading of scriptures does not mean a naturalistic reading. A naturalistic reading says that the full extent of meaning in the account of Moses’ striking the rock is apprehended in understanding the historical event. The literal reading, in the Christ-centered sense of the Reformation, recognizes that this historical account is meaningless to us until we understand how the God of history was using it to reveal Christ to his people. The naturalistic reading of the Song of Solomon is content with the observation that it speaks of the marital-bliss of Solomon and his wife; the literal reading of the reformers recognizes that it has ultimately to do with the marital bliss between Christ and his bride, the Church. And so we could continue, citing example after example from the Old Testament.
 

So what went wrong?  How come the reformers’ understanding of a “literal hermeneutic” gets used today to justify un –Christian interpretation?  Well, historically the influence of academic liberalism turned ‘the literal reading’ into ‘the naturalistic reading’.  And that’s quite a different thing. 

Nathan ends with 6 points at which the naturalistic reading fails:

1. A naturalistic hermeneutic effectively denies God’s ultimate authorship of the bible, by giving practical precedence to human authorial intent.

2. A naturalistic hermeneutic undercuts the typological significance which often inheres in the one story that God is telling in the bible (see Galatians 4:21-31, for example).

3. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for Paul’s assertion that a natural man cannot know the spiritual things which the Holy Spirit teaches in the bible – that is, the things about Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Corinthians 2).

4. A naturalistic hermeneutic is at odds with the clear example of the New Testament authors and apostles as they interpret the Old Testament (cf. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, Paul’s interpretations in Romans 4 and Galatians 4, James’ citing of Amos 9 during the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, the various Old Testament usages in Hebrews, etc.).

5. A naturalistic hermeneutic disallows a full-orbed operation of the analogy of faith principle of the Reformation, by its insistence that every text demands a reading “on its own terms”.

6. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for everything to have its ultimate reference point in Christ, and is in direct opposition to Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:16-18, and Christ’s own teachings in John 5:39, Luke 24:25-27.

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Really great stuff, go read the whole thing.

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The excellent Marc Lloyd has posted the juciest quotation on Christ the Mediator of all revelation.  It’s from Ronald Wallace’s book Calvin’s Doctrine of Word and Sacrament.  Here he is summarizing Calvin’s view especially of christocentric revelation in the OT.

The Mediator of all revelation between God and man in the Old Testament is the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity, the same Christ who became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout the whole national history of Israel, it was always He, the Son of God, who dealt with His people in judgement and mercy, bringing them, with His Presence in their midst, light and life and salvation. Calvin asserts positively that Christ, the Word of God, who “remains with God perpetually one and the same and who is God Himself” (Inst 1:13:7), was “always the bond of connection between God and man” (Comm on Gen 48:15), and “the source of all revelations” (Inst 1:13:7), being “always present in all the oracles” (Comm on Gen 16:10). He is equally emphatic in the frequent negative assertion, “Never did God reveal Himself outside of Christ” (Comm on Jn 5:23). “Nor indeed, had any of the saints ever had communication with God except through the promised Mediator.” (Comm on Ex 3:2) “God formerly manifested Himself in no other way than though Him.” (Comm on Gen 48:15) God never otherwise revealed Himself to the Fathers “but in His eternal Word and only begotten Son” (Comm on Is 6:1). The whole story of the Old Testament is thus the story of how Christ, the Word of God, breaks in upon the life of those whom He has chosen to make his people, and confronts them in these veiled forms through which they can come to know His nature and have communion with Him….

The frequent appearances of the “Angel of the Lord” as the representative of God to the Old Testemant Fathers, and as a guide of the people throughout their history is a sign that Christ is always fulfilling His Mediatorial office of saviour and revealer, and uniting even then the members of His Church to Himself as the Head through whom they are joined to God Himself. Calvin, following the “orthodox doctors” (Inst 1:13:10) on this point, identifies the “chief angel” who appears among the other angelic visitors to earth with “God’s only begotten Son who was afterwards manifest in the flesh” (Comm on Ex 14:19). Even then He performed in a preliminary fashion “some services introductory to His execution of the office of Mediator” (Inst 1:13:10). “There is then no wonder,” says Calvin, “that the Prophet should indictriminately call Him Angel and Jehovah, He being the Mediator of the Church and also God. He is God, being of the same essence with the Father; and Mediator, having already undertaken His Mediatorial office, though not then clothed in our flesh so as to become our brother; for the Church could not exist nor be united to God without a Head” (Comm on Zech 1:18-21). “The angel who appeared at first to Moses, and was always present with the people during their journeying, is frequently called Jehovah. Let is then regard it as a settled point that the angel was Son of God, and was even then the Guide of the Church of which He was the Head” (Comm on 1 Cor 10:9).

Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament (Edinburgh, Scottish Academic Press, 1995) first edition 1953, pp8-10

 

I bang the same drum (endlessly) here.  For more quotes in support from the big guns go here.  Or read Bible Overview, especially appendix 2.

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Michael Spencer absolutely nails this one.  Go and read the whole thing here.  Here are some highlights:

“Anything that one imagines of God apart from Christ is only useless thinking and vain idolatry.”- Martin Luther

…It truly breaks my heart to hear, see or read anyone who is a Christian approaching the subject of God, God’s will, God’s guidance, God’s message—without going to Jesus and camping right there with no intention to move or be impressed with anything else.

There are dozens, hundreds of ways to avoid Jesus when talking about God. There are dozens, hundreds of ways to manipulate Jesus to a less than defining place.

Many of these are fun. Some have the approval of important and powerful people. Some are wrapped in scripture verses. Many are surrounded by books or endorsed by ministers.

But at bottom, Jesus isn’t defining the God conversation. So the conversation is on the wrong foot and making a wrong turn. It may not be worthless, but it isn’t reliable.

…Jesus will break our idols, complicate our assumptions, overturn our tables and put himself squarely in the center of every question. He is the way, the truth, the life. He is the answer. He is the one way we think about, know, love, worship and relate to God.

When you think about God, go to Jesus.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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